The Splash

Sunday morning saw a gaggle of open water swimmers and a token triathlete head to the west reservoir at Stoke Newington for Capital Tri’s final ‘the splash’ of the season.

My day started at 6am when I took the Katie Kenny approach to nutrition and had a biscuit for my breakfast before driving to North London.

We arrived at the West Reservoir and quickly registered. The reservoir is a lovely venue – so lovely that you can even have your wedding reception there. I’ve never been to swim here before because the timings have never worked for a RG Active session and to do a “on your own” swim session you need an induction, which is a bit of a nuisance and they get booked up well in advance.

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I was swimming the 3k at 7:25, whereas, most of the others were starting their 3km at 7:55. We had a briefing and then soon enough I was in the water. At this point with Brian, Dad Carr, David, Pivo and Josie being in a later wave and Katie being in Berlin, I decided to try make a friend with the nearest available man as I needed some clarification about how many laps I was meant to be swimming. Said man didn’t want to be my friend but I persisted until we set off. We were doing 4 laps of 750m (thanks ‘said man’ for clarifying this).

As seems to be the norm now I had to calm myself down over the first lap. There was a pack ahead, which I was never going to catch and then me and 2 other guys. I quickly pulled in front and with that accepted the possibility that they might draft off me the whole way.

After the first lap I reminded myself I wasn’t race fit and needed to relax the effort levels. Surprisingly this didn’t significantly impact my pace (see below) which should serve as a lesson.

As I ended lap 3 the lead swimmer from the later wave overtook me. Waaaaaah! And soon enough Uncle Davey, Brian and Dad Carr followed suit. I tried my best to hang on to Brian and Dad Carr but only lasted 100m.

I sprinted to the finish and exited in a time of 52 minutes. I was hoping for 50 minutes but general consensus in the post race debrief was that it was 3.2 km not 3 km so this was on target.

It was a great event and one I would definitely be keen to do again.

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All out swim at Pells Pool

I (Manda) have swum in Pells Pool in Lewes for the last 2 years and this year it didn’t look like I was going to get my annual dip in but then Paul Bates of Big Rick’s swim team and massive supporter of Macmillan Cancer care posted something about the ‘all out swim’ taking place there. This event started at Tooting Bec Lido but is now held at Pells Pool, Sanford park lido and Brockwell lido. You can typically do a distance of either 2km or 5km and they can be done as relays. Signed up I headed down to Lewes on Sunday morning with Miles and Dom.

The sun was shining and with Coniston in my arms I knew I was capable. I was sharing my wonderfully wide lane with 3 other swimmers. One had put his estimated time for 5k at 60 minutes but he protested he wasn’t a future Olympian and I should go first.

Slowly but calmly the metres ticked away. I spent the first 30 minutes berating myself for setting my watch to 46m when I realised 2 lengths in that that was 50 yards, which would have been a lot easier on the brain!

I got to half way and with a small cap adjustment I ploughed on to bring myself home. After just under 1 hour 20 minutes of swimming I was done. But I love this pool, the sun was shining and it was a wide lane.. So maybe a few extra lengths wouldn’t hurt. I did 4 extra before Dom gave me the ‘look’. Aka ‘your child needs feeding so get out the bleeding pool’!

It was a great event for a brilliant charity and definitely one I will be keen to do again.

Thanks to all the volunteers so for being so wonderful and Pells pool for being so beautiful!

Coniston end to end 2016

Coniston end to end is exactly that.  It is a 5.25 mile (8.5 km) swim from the south end to the north end of Coniston Water that is hosted by Chill Swim aka Colin Hill.  I (Manda) have previously done the event in 2014, whereas Katie was away then.  As it was her first Coniston swim, it was only right that Katie writes the blog, however, Katie has been doing the majority of blog writing this summer due to baby Read arriving, so it was decided instead to write about the race from each of our perspectives.

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Manda’s race

Entering Coniston end to end was a great (read: ridiculous) idea I had when I was in the early stages of pregnancy. Pre baby me was an idiot that obviously hated with baby me as why I thought with a due date of 3/6 that a 5.25 mile swim on 3/9 was a good idea I’ll never know.  Alas deeply entrenched in my own hyperbole and thanks to a punctual baby I had 7 weeks post sign off from doctors to train for this. It wasn’t pretty and there were plenty of times when I thought it just wasn’t possible but I made it to the start line thanks to lots of help from my husband, fellow mermaids and friends.

Mile 1
I had only one thing in mind for this swim: FINISHING, so I set off slow. The first mile ticked by as they often do however, this time I was faced with calming myself down as every niggle, mouthful of water, thought of coming last and gasp of breath made me doubt what I was doing. Once I passed the first mile buoy the monkey on my back decided to pee off and I relaxed and began to enjoy the beautiful scenery that surrounded me.

Mile 2
I was achingly lonely, not helped by knowing that my usual partners in crime Katie and Brian were swimming together. At this point the person who was drafting off me swam alongside me and I recognised them, what are the chances!!! It was David Hook of Windermere 2 way relay fame!

Mile 3
I was swimming in a group with David and another girl and life was great and I allowed myself to believe that it was possible. Then came the fall…

Mile 4
‘Oh my days.. This is he hardest thing ever’. I made the decision to leave the pod at the 3rd mile marker as it was taking too much energy to tag alone and there was still nearly an hour to go. AN HOUR TO GO.

Mile 5
The end was in sight… well it was actually around a corner but hey ho.  I was deteriorating rapidly, so much so, that some swimmers from an earlier wave whom I must have overtaken in the previous mile were now swimming past me.  The worst was the shame of someone swimming backstroke that I couldn’t catch.

The final 0.25 mile.
“It is just 4 lengths of the lido” I kept telling myself as I willed my arms to turn over whilst trying to make every stroke as efficient as possible to limit the number of strokes needed to get me to the end.

I did it.  I victoriously clambered out in just over 2 hours and 30 minutes, scanned the crowd to find my awaiting husband and baby… Nope nothing.  Apart from the actual disappointment and sense of anti climax this created, it also meant that I had no idea where they were or when they would be turning up and with just a wetsuit and a tow float there was no way of contacting them.  Fortunately I bumped into Josie and her mum lent me the phone to call Dom.

I really feel like this swim was a massive turning point for me on my return. For the first time in several months I felt myself again and I’m now back to thinking anything is possible as long as you are deluded enough to sign up before you realise what lies ahead but that is how all the best swims have happened.

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Manda with Katie’s son Max seeing as Baby Read was nowhere to be found

Katie’s race

I was away at a friend’s wedding in Chicago when Team Mermaids and friends first visited the Lake District to swim Coniston in 2014 so I was very much looking forward to swimming the 5.25miles from one end of the lake to the other.

Spirits were high as Kate, Brian, Max and I took the train up together on Friday morning.  The sun was shining and we had a lovely tea and cake stop in Coniston village before heading to the cottage Manda and I were staying in for the week for a pasta party.

Saturday, however, dawned grey and rainy and to the news that the lake temperature had dropped two degrees overnight to just 16 degrees.  It was with a little more trepidation therefore that Brian and I headed down on the bus to the start.  Due to the inclement weather Colin (the organiser) was about to start the race 15 minutes early before I had to run down and tell him Manda wasn’t there yet as she was still in the car park feeding Miles!  She soon arrived though and we were off!

After being ditched by Brian at the start of both Jubilee and the Thames Marathon and then finishing a long way behind him I was determined to stick with him at the start as I thought I would have a chance of keeping up with him if only I had him by my side as motivation to do so!  Thankfully the walk in start meant that it was easier to keep him in sight and I set off next to him.  Now I like a long gentle warm-up but a race is not ideal for this so I struggled a bit over the first 1km or so but I was in my stride by the time we passed the 1 mile buoy.  I checked my watch and we had swum the first mile in around 24 mins 30 secs which is probably the fastest mile I had done in 6 years so I was worried that maybe I was over cooking things.  Just after the mile marker we were joined by Vicky Miller who was swimming skins and we all pretty much swam together for the next few miles.  At the feeding station between mile 3 and 4 we stopped and had a gel for energy for the final straight.

I was feeling good over about the next km but then I started to fade rapidly.  By about 4.5 miles I was struggling to keep up with Brian and then came the WEEDS.  Oh my days as Manda would say.  As I had not swum Coniston before and true to form I had not read any of the pre-race information, I had no idea that there was about a 600m or so stretch of duck weed near the finish.  This made it really challenging to swim, as you couldn’t pull through the water properly and they kept on getting caught in my tow float.  The effort of swimming through the weeds and keeping up with Brian was too much and I lost him (sob sob).   I finally made it to the 5 mile marker and the water started to clear.  I was planning a final sprint from there but decided to delay this to the final 100m!

Overall I loved the swim.  The scenery is beautiful and the lake is pretty much deserted apart from your fellow swimmers so you can really make the most of watching the hills go by.  I was pleased with my time finishing in 2 hours 12 minutes.  After a summer of disappointments it was nice to post something I was pleased with at the end of the year – clearly I just need someone to draft off / motivate me!

 

 

Thames Marathon 2016 – Bridge to Bridge

The Thames Marathon was our favourite swim of 2015 so part of me was really looking forward to the 14km swim from Henley Bridge down to Marlow Bridge. The other part of me was pretty nervous as I probably hadn’t done quite enough training. While Coach Manda has been on ‘sabbatical’ we have not been as organised as we might be! Manda caught Brian and I trying to do some cramming training at the lido a few weeks before and just shook her head at us.

The event had a number of changes of format this year to go along with the change in name (previously it was just called Bridge to Bridge).

Historically swimmers had to swim in a pod of similar paced swimmers which were allocated at the first lock. In 2015 you had the option to swim solo with a tow float or to swim with a pace group. You chose your own pace group at the start of the event. This year it was mandatory to swim with a tow float but you also had the option to swim with one of three pace swimmers (one per wave) or you could be allocated to a pod at the first stop. I swam solo which made for a much faster race as you can go through the stops at your chosen pace rather than having to wait for the other people in your pace group. I choose to go through the feed stops as quickly as possible. On the other hand it does make the swim a bit lonelier as you don’t have a group to chat to which is a bit of a shame. I had not ever swum with a tow float before and I was a bit nervous that it would get in my way but I hardly noticed it at all.

Typically at these type of swims the slower waves set off first and faster waves later. For the Thames Marathon however this has been reversed with the fast wave leading it out. This definitely makes things easier as you are not having to pass the other waves. I can only imagine that with everyone having tow floats that this would have been carnage.

This year the second and third legs had been joined together to make one uber leg. This meant you started with a 4km leg, followed by 6km, then a shortie of 1.5km followed by a final leg of 2.5km. I was worried that the second leg would be really tough being so long but it was actually fine and it was really nice to finish that leg and to feel like you had broken the back of the swim with just two shorter legs to swim. I do wish however that I had tried to find some people to swim with on this leg as it was mostly by myself which I think made my overall pace suffer.

The event traditionally finished at the rowing club at Marlow Bridge but due to the event’s popularity this is no longer possible and the event now finishes about 200m short in Higginson Park. While it is sad not to swim right up to the bridge it is great to finish right in the swimming festival at the end for snacks and shopping.

Given all the changes along with a pretty rapid river flow it is really hard to compare times from year to year but I was happyish with my 3h 11m finish. Brian did an amazing job breaking the three hour mark finish in 2h 58m and Kate was pleased with her 3h 44m.

Overall I think the changes in format have pros and cons but I understand why they have all been made and I really enjoyed the swim again. We will definitely be back!

RG Active Relay Race 2016

imageThis was Team Mermaids third trip to the RG Active Relays. The first year Manda and I emerged victorious but the second year we were pipped into second place. Would it be third time lucky for Brian (standing in as merman in Manda’s place) and I?

The format is 6 laps of around 500m of Ham Lake (plus a little bit further on the start lap). You can have a team of between 2 and 6 people and the only rule is that you need to change over each lap by running up a hill to the start and high fiving.

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Photo by Marsha @rgactive

Brian and I tossed a coin to see who was going to start and swim the slightly longer first lap. I lost and lined up with around 12 other teams at the start of the race. Everyone set off like a rocket and it took me until about half way up the straight to overtake all but the leading swimmer. I tried to catch him but ended the lap about 100m behind. Brian luckily however managed to overtake this team’s second swimmer during his first lap. From there we stayed in the lead finishing in a time of 50mins and 31 secs. Title regained!

It is always fun to do something a bit different and especially something which requires a bit of sprinting. I think it was a bit too enthusiastic on the first lap as I was pretty sluggish when I set out on the second but I soon warmed back up. I tried to start a bit more sedately on the third lap to have something left for a sprint finish.

We really enjoyed the event. The atmosphere was nice and relaxed and there was even cake at the end!

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Photos by Marsha @rgactive

SLSC 1 mile race – July 2016

So something like this wouldn’t normally warrant a blog but sometimes the smallest achievements are worth the biggest noise. The SLSC 1 mile Sunday morning race! Every Sunday (even in winter), SLSC hold a Sunday morning race over a range of distances from 1 width to the longest race 1 mile. Team Mermaids try and attend the 1 mile race each year so not even having recently had a baby was going to put me off.

When I (Manda) plus my gang (husband and baby) arrived at the lido, Brian and Katie had already been there for an hour and half doing some last minute ‘cramming’ for this year’s Thames marathon next weekend. As I told them both this would never have happened on coach Manda’s watch!

After clearing the lido we all marched to the deep end of the lido and lined up in speed order for the 1 mile swim. I suggested that I would swim around 32 minutes on the basis of how I had been swimming the last couple of weeks since being signed off to swim, so ended up in the middle of the SLSC line up. There were notable absences due to Ride 100 and summer holidays but it was still a large crowd.

After swimming to the black marker on pool side for where the mile officially starts we were soon set off. Unfortunately for the man standing next to me waiting for the start, the black marker wasn’t sufficiently in the shallow end for me to stand flat footed, so I was on tip toes just to keep breathing.  Once we were set off there was nothing for me to push off to get going … Apart from the man’s belly. So after ‘go’ I spent the first 10 seconds apologising. Sorry Katie and Brian but team mermaids may never be welcome at a club race again!

After 17 and a bit lengths of, I can only assume, perfect pacing if not perfect speed I arrived home in a respectable 30:10. If only I hadn’t have kicked the man in the belly it could have been sub 30! I was really pleased considering I have only been back swimming for 2 weeks and have also had a throat infection to deal with in that time.

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Katie and Brian naturally stormed home together in a time of 26:30. Katie was slightly (read very) mortified that she was beaten by an eleven year old!

Hopefully I will get a chance to race in the 1000yds race next Sunday whilst the rest of the team and friends tackle 15,310 yards at Thames Marathon. Good luck!

RG Active training race – July 2016

On Sunday 24 July family Kenny / Patrickson were up bright and early to head down to Ham Lake for one of the regular RG Active training races.

The training races are held three times a year and the format is very relaxed. The races start at 8am. You can either swim 1 lap (around 750m), 2 laps (around 1.2k), 4 laps (around 2.2k) or 6 laps (around 3.2km). You can register online in advance or just turn up and pay the £10 race fee on the day. You can decide how far you want to swim on the day or even while you are racing so if you are feeling strong you can stay in and vice versa.

Now I had not had the best preparation for the race as it was Lisa (of channel swimming fame) and Tom’s wedding the day before so we had rolled into bed at 1am slightly the worse for wear (or VERY the worse for wear in Dennis’ case). Max has no sympathy for a hangover however and he was up at 6am as usual. As I was up anyway I decided I might as well head down to the race. Dennis had to be bribed with the promise of a post swim breakfast though.

In the end I was glad I made the effort. The water was lovely and refreshing and I enjoyed plodding round my 6 laps. I was tempted to get out after 4 but I said to myself ‘what would Manda do?’ carry on of course so I did.

I finished in just under 50 mins which is hardly setting the world alight but I was happy with it given I was not at my best and had taken it quite steady.

It was really nice to catch-up with the RG Active crew as well. Anne (@annelovesthegym) was even sporting her Team Mermaids hat for the race. Max also enjoyed the morning playing with Oakley and Bijoux, Marsha and John’s dogs (or woof woofs if you are one and a half).

Later that day John was undertaking his fourth of seven challenges this year raising money for Bloodwise swimming and epic 200 x 100m off 2 minutes. Well done John!!

We would recommend the training races if you want a relaxed and casual race which allows you to practice all of the race elements you need for the big day such as sighting, mass starts and turning round buoys.

Henley Mile – Skins vs. suits 2016

The question is age old – how much difference does wearing a wetsuit make?  

It is almost impossible to answer that question.  Races, courses, water flow, how you feel on the day are all different.  The closest you are ever going to get to answer the question however is doing the same swim twice on the same day, one with your wetsuit and once without.  That is what I (Katie) did on 10 July 2016 at the Henley Mile event.

Henley swim run four events a year: the Classic, Thames Marathon (aka Bridge 2 Bridge), Club to Pub and the Mile.  Team Mermaids have competed in all of these events before apart from the Mile so I wanted to complete the “set” this year.  I went on the website to enter and saw that they were running the suits vs. skins challenge which I thought looked like fun so I signed right up!

The Henley Swim events are always really well organised and professional.  They also tend to have a little something which makes them different and standout from other events I have swim in such as club to pub where the swim ends up at a pub!

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The Henley Mile was a full day of races covering different distances from one mile down to 200m for the kids.  The first wave went off at 9am which makes it a much more civilised start than the 4am classic start time.  The event was combined with the Open Water Swimming Show hosted by H2Open magazine which had a combination of talks, demonstrations and stalls selling swimming gear.  Our very own Dan Bullock was there giving talks and doing demonstrations along with Cassie Patten – Olympic Bronze medallist in the 10km open water swim in Beijing.

As the rest of Team Mermaids and friends were out of action for one reason or another I managed to persuade Dennis and Max to come down and support me and keep me company during the day.  

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My first race was at 10am – this time in my wetsuit.  The day has started off quite overcast and by the time we were walking the mile down to the start it was pouring down.  Once you get in the water though a little rain doesn’t matter and we were quickly off.  The course is absolutely lovely – swimming downstream between the Henley Royal Regatta boomed course.  It is nice not to be just going round in circles for a change but also not needing to constantly slight.

I was uncharacteristically enthusiastic at the start and tried to keep up with the three leaders.  I managed to stay with them until just over half way but then dropped back.  I was then swimming neck and neck with another lady for about 500m.  I lost sight of her at around 200m to go (where there is a helpful sign telling you to sprint) and I had a sneaking feeling I would find her on my feet.  A minute or so later I had that tell-tale tap on my toes which spurred me on to sprint down the last 100m or so.  I finished fourth in my wave of skins vs. suits participants in a time of 21 mins 5 secs.  The river flow must have been pretty strong as I would generally be happy with anything under 24 mins for a mile.  Overall I was pleased with my swim but I was also pretty tired and now sure how I was going to mange to do the whole thing again!

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My next race wasn’t until 3.40pm so while Dennis headed off for his long marathon training run Max and I hung out at the open water show looking round the stalls and chatted to people.  Once Dennis had finished his run we drove into Henley itself for a bit of carbo loading at a local Italian.  

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By the time we got back to the event the sun was out and it was lovely and warm which was good news as I registered and got ready for my skins race.  The water was a balmy 18.8 degrees, however, I haven’t done any skins swimming so far this year so getting in was still a bit of a jolt to the system.  Once I was swimming though I didn’t feel too bad.  For this wave we also had elite and other traditional swimmers with us so it was harder to tell where you were in the field of suits vs. skins participants.  There were two young elite swimmers who sprinted off from the whistle and I settled down to swim with three or four others – not sure if they were the same swimmers as the morning swim though.

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I think my morning exertions had taken its toll a bit and I didn’t feel as good in the afternoon swim.  Again I tried to keep with the three leading ladies but lost touch a little over half way.  Over the final 200m I was racing against another lady.  She was half a body in front of me and my efforts to catch her were being hampered by my goggles being totally fogged up and not being able to see the finish line.  In the end I didn’t quite manage to catch her.  

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So what difference does a wetsuit make over a mile?  Well in my case 1 min and 31 seconds as I finished my second mile in 22 mins and 36 second.  So in percentage terms I was 7% slower without my wetsuit.  I think to be honest some of that will down to not having such a great swim and not taking out as fast as I did in the morning.  Overall though a wetsuit makes less difference that I would have thought!

I would absolutely recommend this event for next year.  It was a great race but also a fun day out.

Boulter’s to Bray 2016

Thanks to Paddy for giving us an insight into open water swimming events from the spectator’s point of view.  It is as glamorous as we thought!!

Massive well done to Kate for her swim!


I’m not a sports spectator and never have been. I also can’t swim. I can float and vaguely control the direction of travel, but it’s not for me. The smell of chlorine evokes vivid memories of being thin and blue, shivering at the poolside in school swimming. I love lakes and the sea, but further schoolboy misadventures involving nudity and canoes (not at the same time, you understand) mean I don’t relish going for a dip in either. Rivers? Right up there with ‘rip tides’ in my list of reasons to decline an invitation from the swimming club.

So now we’ve established that I don’t enjoy watching sport, nor swimming, perhaps we can consider a pertinent question: what moment of lunacy has led to me getting up at 4am to go and watch people churning through a 3km stretch of the river Thames? It’s Saturday – I should be in bed, sleeping off a light hangover before getting up for a leisurely, high-cholesterol breakfast.

Thing is, Kate owes half of south London a lift (with IOUs ranging from Tooting Lido to the Lake District). The other thing is that Kate doesn’t have a car. Or, in fact, a licence – though that is a work in progress. Muggins here does, and has been enlisted. So, at 4am I’m at the wheel and we’re Maidenhead bound for the Boulter’s to Bray Swim.

Aside from the horribly early start, the day begins well. The sun is shining, we don’t hit traffic, we don’t get lost, we find a parking space immediately, registration is completed in the time it would take to buy a newspaper and there is a promise that later we will be offered bacon sandwiches. And coffee. Both will be needed.

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Organised sport is not my natural habitat, but Kate quickly finds changing rooms and seems to have a good idea where the start of the 2.8km race is. I am promised the start will be “the exciting bit”.

Arriving at the starting area, things do get more interesting. Kate slips into a crowd being addressed by someone with a megaphone, leaving me to chat to the three other spectators (there are 180-odd entrants). But looking back on the throng, I notice that everyone has turned identical. As the starting gun looms, everyone has pulled on matching event-branded swimming caps. The uniform also includes a black wetsuit.

I can’t find Kate. Some more spectators turn up with a couple of labradors. Even the dogs look confused. It does look a little like the aliens have arrived. It doesn’t help that half of them are ‘windmilling’ like The Who guitarist Pete Townshend.

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After a lengthy game of Where’s Wally? I manage to pick out a pair of distinctive pink goggles. It’s Kate, and I’m able to get missile lock long enough to see her enter the water. But now there’s a new problem: the organisers are ‘floating’ the swimmers around the corner for the start. I set off to get a better view.

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I just catch the start, but there’s something surprising. Swimming is faster than I expected and this lot are heading downstream. I adopt a brisk pace in the hope of catching up. Problem is, I keep stopping to see if I can pick out a highlight of pink goggle among the rhythmically churning arms. Fat chance. I also have to cross via a bridge, which adds to the lag, following which I’m led down a riverside path where the dense foliage does not afford a clear view. I can hear arms slapping into the water, but I’ve no idea which end of the swimming order I’m walking next to.

Eventually, I come across a dozen or so panting wetsuited men on the towpath, just in time to see Kate (also panting) emerge behind them. It’s the first time I’ve had a definite ID on her since before the start, but I haven’t seen any of the other woman swimmers on the way down here, and there don’t appear to be any looking for their shoes in the pick-up area. Has she won? She doesn’t think so.

Back at HQ, important things are afoot, mainly involving pork and caffeine. Several men are trying to mend a computer. A small queue has formed. One of the men plugs in a new cable, gives it a wiggle and presses some buttons. He looks across the table hopefully and the expectant swimmer taps in his race number. A ticket is printed out. The queue begins to move.

Kate’s ticket reveals that she’s come 21st overall, and is the second fastest woman in the grid. During prize giving, we find out that she was off the leader’s pace by just seconds.

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Swimming hasn’t revealed itself as the best kept secret in spectator sports, but Kate thinks having the support has helped her to put in a good time and there’s clearly a bonhomie among the swimmers. Would I get involved? Not on your life. But I might watch again, although I’d hope for a later start. And it’s definitely Kate’s turn to drive.